Debate on State Responses to Covid-19

Covid-19 and hybrid trends in economy and society

22nd of December, 2021

Manos Savvakis

The pandemic condition forms a complicated and multilevel social reality that is heavily produced and magnified by and through the globalization of the market economy, as initially described by Karl Polanyi. This global trend entails the high speed of modern life and the constant movement of values, commodities and people. However, this post-modern globalized world of human movement, trade and commodities radically changes the way and speed epidemics move and sometimes turn into pandemics.

This pandemic condition poses serious questions and debates regarding the following day and what are yet to come, in several aspects of economy, health and society as a whole. There is a strong possibility after the official ending of this period that we move towards one-dimensional national health systems with huge problems of understaffing and work exhaustion (burnout syndrome and alienation). At the same time, new forms of post-pandemic economy along with new models of socialization seem to gradually establish themselves, solely based on social and physical distancing. For example, new forms of music and art creation are already emerging on the internet (i.e., electronic concerts, home concerts, philharmonic orchestras and sport tournaments without spectators, virtual evets, large galas in big empty stadiums etc.).

In Greece, after the second lockdown (October 2020-May 2021), the gradual re-opening of almost all economic and social activities and the suspension of sending SMS to the police, coincides with the beginning of the touristic period. However, as medical experts publicly warn, the pandemic condition is not entirely over – what is pronounced as the fourth wave of mutated Covid-19 virus – and we already face the economic and social consequences of this new situation. For this simple, albeit fundamental reason, societies need social sciences, particularly qualitative sociological research, because those can propose applicable solutions and good practices that take into account the social dimensions alongside economic and health requirements.

In this situation, social sciences and especially sociological theory and research should get involved in a deep understanding of the pandemic condition as a total social phenomenon and in proposing realistic schemes and ways of acting. The pandemic condition – and that includes structural and institutional levels of human action as well as the everyday life – highlights the role of sociology. Polanyi’s analysis of the detachment of economy from society is crucial in understanding and reflecting upon this new and not so promising new normality that will follow us to a greater or lesser degree, since it is almost certain that other epidemics or pandemics will succeed this one, possibly with greater rates of mortality.

In this sense, a “return to normality” is far from restoring social justice and healing economic inequalities, gender violence and educational or health problems. In fact, the pandemic situation can offer a great excuse to conservative political elites to imply permanent authoritarian forms of governance and further reduce social rights. It can as well shape a great opportunity for broader social coalitions that seek the expansion of the welfare state and civil freedom. The future is, as always, open and resisting any prediction.

Manos Savvakis

Manos Savvakis is an Associate Professor in Microsociology and Qualitative Methods (Department of Sociology/University of the Aegean, Lesvos, Greece).
He is also an external Professor at the MA Program “Health Units Administration” of the Hellenic Open University, Greece.

Read the other essays on State Responses to Covid-19 here:

Davide Caselli, Carlotta Mozzana & Barbara Giullari, Italy
Beverley Skeggs, UK
Mike Laufenberg & Susanne Schultz, Germany
Ayse Dursun, Verena Kettner & Birgit Sauer, Austria
Geoff Goodwin, UK
Joel Z. Garrod, Canada
Samuel Ojo Oloruntoba & Cory Blad, South Africa/Canada/US